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Court TV

Testimony focuses on handwriting

By Harriet Ryan
Court TV

story.ctv.slayings.jpg
Prosecutors say Gary Leiterman, not a serial killer, murdered a college student in 1969.

ANN ARBOR, Michigan (COURT TV) -- A retired nurse's cursive handwriting places him at the dormitory of a law school coed he is accused of murdering 36 years ago, a forensic expert testified before prosecutors rested their case.

The police crime lab analyst said he was "virtually certain" that it was the defendant, Gary Leiterman, who scrawled the victim's last name and hometown on the cover of a phone book found in the basement of the University of Michigan law dormitory.

Detectives searching for Jane Mixer on March 21, 1969, the morning she was reported missing, happened upon the book marked with the words "Mixer" and "Muskegeon" in a phone booth. Mixer had accepted a ride home to Muskegon with a stranger she met through a ride-share bulletin board.

Lt. Thomas Riley, who specializes in document analyses, said his comparison of the words and several known samples of Leiterman's handwriting found many similarities and no fundamental differences.

"It's my opinion that it is highly probable Gary Earl Leiterman wrote the 'Muskegeon,' 'Mixer' entries on the phone book," he said.

Riley's conclusions are important for the prosecution because they are the state's only evidence that puts Leiterman at the university with knowledge of Mixer's identity.

The 62-year-old was charged with the long-unsolved crime last year on the strength of new forensic tests that showed his DNA on the victim's pantyhose.

Lost evidence

Leiterman was a 25-year-old pharmaceutical representative living about a half-hour from the campus at the time and had no known relationship with Mixer, a 23-year-old engaged to another student.

On cross-examination, a defense lawyer attacked Riley's analysis as flawed.

Attorney Gary Gabry noted that the expert only examined photos of the phonebook and not the volume itself. A custodian accidentally threw out the phonebook while cleaning an evidence storage area 30 years ago.

Riley conceded that he was unable to perform some microscopic tests, but said the photos were clear enough for an accurate analysis.

Gabry also pressed Riley about a preliminary analysis that was based in part on writing samples that turned out to be from the defendant's wife.

Riley acknowledged that he had studied pages of a diary that he ultimately learned was written by Solley Leiterman. He said that he had marked possible similarities between the handwriting in the diary and that of the writer of "Mixer" and "Muskegeon," but he denied that he included them in his conclusion.

"I did not necessarily use them to form my opinion," he said.

Copycat killer?

Jurors in the case, now entering its second week, also heard from a former roommate of Leiterman, who said he showed interest in a suspected serial killer believed to be targeting young women in the college area.

Paul Esper, who lived with Leiterman in the late 1960s and early '70s, testified that he stumbled across a stack of newspapers about the murders while borrowing a suit jacket from Leiterman's closet.

Featured in all the publications piled on the floor was John Norman Collins, then suspected of killing as many as seven women in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti.

"I thought it was a little strange maybe, but nothing to be alarmed about," Esper said when asked why he did not tell anyone of his discovery at the time.

Esper did not go to authorities until after Leiterman was arrested.

For decades, Mixer's death was grouped with the killings of the other women. The murders stopped after Collins' arrest for the final murder in 1969. Leiterman's defense has suggested Collins is the real killer and the DNA match is the result of contamination.

Esper also told jurors that Leiterman owned a revolver and set up a firing range in his basement.

"He asked me if I wanted to shoot the gun, and I said I really didn't. And after some prompting, I shot the gun a couple of times," Esper said.

Prosecutor Steven Hill is expected to argue in his summation that Leiterman wanted Esper to fire the gun so his fingerprints would be on the weapon. Leiterman reported a .22-caliber handgun missing in 1987.

A ballistics expert from the state police crime lab testified Wednesday that the bullets removed from Mixer's brain did little to narrow the field of murder weapons. The bullets came from a .22-caliber gun and were manufactured by Remington, but the expert, Reinhard Pope, said, more than three dozen models of guns on the market are capable of firing that bullet and the bullet itself is among the most common, with billions sold.

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